“This happened to me once, too.”
When asked about why she chose to become a physician, Dr. Lauren Poindexter
, a non-surgical sports medicine physician at Arkansas Children’s Northwest, shares a list of injuries she’s endured:
a sprained ankle
- shin splints
- an arm broken during recess that went undiagnosed for two weeks
- a mysterious, painful popping in the hip during dance practice
- unidentified knee pain that made it too painful to run
- a concussion during a flag football game
It's a partial list of injuries she's experienced throughout her life. "Sometimes I laugh at the number of times I can say to my patients, 'Yep. This happened to me once, too.'" Poindexter, who still plays adult-league kickball and softball, ran track, played tennis, soccer and basketball, and practiced gymnastics and cheerleading while growing up.
"I grew up in the 80s and 90s without access to athletic trainers or good sports medicine docs. My pediatricians didn't know what to do with me, so I would just hobble along until the problem seemed to heal on its own."
Her experiences as a young athlete and her desire to help others led her to study kinesiology and become an athletic trainer before deciding to go to medical school.
Poindexter splits her time between caring for kids at Arkansas Children's Northwest and at clinics run by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where she is an assistant professor. She's also a team physician for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Physical and emotional aspects of injuries
It takes a team of experts to keep young athletes healthy and get them back on the field. The sports medicine team at ACNW includes athletic trainers, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and physicians like Poindexter. The first goal of an ACNW athletic trainer
is to prevent injury using strategies like taping ankles, encouraging proper stretching techniques or ensuring athletes stay hydrated. When an injury occurs during a sport, trainers can become a valuable link between patient and physician because of their ability to describe the circumstances and symptoms of the injury. In other cases, emergency room physicians, often the first stop for parents, will refer patients to the ACNW sports medicine clinic
because of the specialized treatments offered.
The ACNW team treats both the physical and emotional aspects of injuries. The first step is listening to the young patient and their parents. Kids, especially young kids, may not have the vocabulary to describe an injury. Poindexter said, "Kids and adults have varying pain thresholds, which means some injuries affect kids and adults totally differently."
To accurately diagnose an injury, the ACNW sports medicine team listens to the patient and their parents, conducts a thorough physical exam and uses X-rays when needed. Football and soccer seasons result in many sprained ankles, knee injuries and concussions.
In addition to physical pain, the injuries often cause stress. Young athletes sometimes worry they won't be able to participate in their favorite sports, and parents worry their children will get hurt again. The stress of sustaining an injury can cause secondary issues like headaches or sleeplessness.
"We talk about those emotions," Poindexter said. "We invite parents, and we invite kids to talk about what that injury means to them because that's a safe place for them to learn about their bodies, and also for us to explore that emotional side of injuries."
Back in the game
Being an athlete helps Poindexter understand the value of sports to her patients. "It gives them such a wonderful sense of accomplishment," she said. "The teamwork they learn about and the camaraderie is so necessary to helping them weather the storms that come with just being a regular kid."
Treating and rehabilitating injuries can take weeks or months. Physical and occupational therapists provide the specialized pediatric care needed for muscles and bones that are still growing while also healing. "These kids respond really well to encouragement and physical therapy," Poindexter said. "We all love seeing them back in clinic as they get stronger and more comfortable in their bodies. Their physical recovery parallels improvement in emotional stability, and the families are all in!"
Arkansas Children’s uses “safe return to play
” protocols throughout treatment before clearing an athlete to return to the field.
A diverse team for diverse athletes
It takes the diverse skills of everyone on the ACNW sports medicine team – trainers, pediatric nurses and physicians, physical and occupational therapists – working together to make kids better today and healthier tomorrow.
Other types of diversity are important too. Being a female athlete and the only non-surgical female sports physician in the region helps Poindexter relate to the unique perspective of some of her female patients.
"There's been an explosion of women and young girls entering sports," Poindexter said. "We've also seen how these female athletes have found more courage and more self-confidence in saying out loud, 'I'm hurt.'"
When hurts happen, the sports medicine team at ACNW is committed to treating all patients with a combination of compassion and expert care.